With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
#21: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
We continue this year's series with Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert, the 2012 Mackey Award winner and one of the most productive players at his position in the nation. He enjoyed a breakout season in 2011, when he caught 63 passes for 803 yards and five touchdowns, and followed that up with 50 grabs for 685 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. This despite the fact that more and more, enemy defenses know that he was the man to contain. A 215-pound receiver in high school, Eifert bulked up to 250 pounds at 6-foot-6 during his time at Notre Dame, but he kept one aspect of his previous position intact -- the ability to line up all over the field and be productive. One point of focus during his 2012 season was an improvement in run-blocking which was evident on the game tape.
"That has been what everyone said I was lacking," Eifert said at the scouting combine. "So, I've spent a lot of time working on my blocking with coaches, working on the technique things, the little things, the footwork, hand placement. Just the little things, which make a big difference."
Little things which make a big difference? Sounds like a pretty good way to describe Eifert's overall game, and his easy status as the most well-rounded tight end in this draft class.
Pros: Comes off the snap with surprising burst for his size, and accelerates smoothly up to full speed. Does a great job of using head and foot fakes to dislodge coverage off the line. High-points the ball as well as anyone in this draft class, and as well as half the tight ends currently in the NFL -- can make life very difficult for defenders who try to jump with him. Plays boundaries well -- uses the sideline as an advantage. Has a good sense of route concepts from in-line or H-back. Dynamic receiver after the catch; Eifert will bull through arm and ankle tackles and is always looking to get upfield. Very agile for his size in space and will get open in little zones. Unfinished as a blocker, but will go out of his way to seal the edge or get upfield to deal with a defender. Knows how to ride the stem and will work to stay open when his quarterback is in trouble.
Outstanding receiver from anywhere on the field -- inline, from the slot/flex (perhaps his ideal position) and out wide. Consistently productive despite his status over the last two seasons as his team's number-one receiver. Works well and winds through more physical defenses. Has a wide catch radius and will fight for the ball in the air.
Cons: Good effort blocker, but struggles at times with angles and placement and will lose blocks at times as a result. Does not possess top-end speed and takes a while to build up to full velocity. Tops out quickly on more vertical routes. Teams looking to use him as more of an inline blocker may want him to bulk up a bit from his current lankier frame.
Conclusion: With all the talk about old-school and new-school tight ends, Eifert is the most appealing mixture of receiving and blocking potential in this draft class, and one of the best in the recent draft classes. He brings a full skill set to the table, and as long as you're not looking for the next Jimmy Graham to explode up the seam for 25 yards per play, he's as good as you're going to get at the position coming out of college. He'll come into the NFL as a relatively fully-formed player, but this is no low-ceiling guy -- this is the kind of player around whom a team can build a passing offense. Look no further than the BCS Championship game, when Alabama put cornerback Dee Milliner on Eifert, to see what the best defenses think of Eifert's potential.